In 2010, three Denham Springs women began meeting to pray for each others’ children. As other women joined their circle, the focus remained the same.

One day, Hope Perdue made a request that changed everything.

“She said, ‘I don’t want to pray for my children today. I’d like to pray for the children of my neighborhood,’” said Beth Clark, who had joined Dawn Birdsong and Donise Shipley in forming the group. “She just briefly discussed how a lot of these kids are so hungry. They would come to her house asking for food. They were just sort of on the loose. So we did. We stopped and prayed.”

But they didn’t stop there.

Not telling the others, Birdsong, Clark and Shipley each visited Eastover Estates, which they knew only by a reputation earned through news accounts of criminal activity. They saw a jumble of trailers, many in terrible condition, some with broken-down vehicles and trash in the yards.

“I took a ride through it and just wept — I mean, just bawling my eyes out, have to pull over because it’s something that I had never seen before,” Clark said. “At that point, God really put on my heart those kids, and not just to pray for them but to get out there and do something. At the same time, God’s dealing with Dawn’s heart and Donise’s heart. So, the three of us by that afternoon had called and said, ‘We have to do something.’”

They did. They became the Mighty Moms.

The group of volunteers began by providing food, games and motherly advice in Eastover Estates. They have grown into a tax-exempt nonprofit organization that supplies food to 127 students who might otherwise go hungry on weekends.

Birdsong was familiar with a group named Moms In Touch International. Though they never affiliated with MITI, the acronym inspired the name Mighty Moms. They’d been meeting for about six months when Perdue’s prayer request struck a responsive chord.

“God was really kind of tussling with us already, like there must be something more to what we’re supposed to be doing besides praying for our own kids,” Birdsong said. “We would pray for our kids’ enemies. Our kids had been bullied, and we would pray for those kids. We would pray for the coaches who taught our kids, the teachers, but we really thought, ‘Is this really all God has for us?’”

Once they discovered the need at Eastover, Birdsong, Clark and Shipley started showing up once a month in early 2011. They walked the subdivision streets, handing out bottles of water and snacks to the children, getting to know them. That summer, they came every Wednesday, setting up tables and tents in a vacant lot, serving light food and snacks and bringing games and secondhand clothes. Local churches joined them to teach a Bible study using interactive crafts and games.

Before long, that lot was a mecca for the subdivision’s children.

“They got to shop in our little free garage sale, and they were so cute,” Birdsong said. “They would find a bathing suit that was their size and they would get on their bike and hustle home and come back and have on their new bathing suit and a pair of Dollar General flip-flops that we gave them. It was so cute.

“We really learned to love dirty little mouths and feet. … They had impetigo all over them. They just needed a mom. The things we did for our own children, they didn’t have that parent at home for them.

“It wasn’t necessarily neglect. A lot of it was ignorance,” Clark said. “The parents just didn’t know that their kids had impetigo or staph or whatever. They really didn’t know. We got to just love on them and teach them a little bit.”

Shipley is no longer involved with the group, but the Mighty Moms organization has about 30 active volunteers. Ernie Kelly, one of Birdsong’s neighbors, is one of several men who, after learning what the volunteers were doing, began helping.

“He’s a Mighty Mom along with us moms,” Birdsong said. “He’s a Mighty Paw-Paw.”

The Mighty Moms continue to work in Eastover Estates, but they discovered that a lot of children elsewhere in the parish also have needs. That led to the Full Tummy Project. Volunteers prepare bags of food that are distributed through public schools. Guidance counselors identify children likely to benefit from the project. Charlene Lilly, counselor at Juban Park Elementary School, said the problem is bigger than many realize.

“A lot of times when we talk about kids being hungry, one of the first reactions I hear from people is, ‘There’s welfare. There’s food stamps. Kids don’t go hungry anymore.’ And they do,” Lilly said. “When we send kids home on Fridays, a lot of times on Mondays when they get off the bus they’re grouchy, and one of the reasons is because they’re hungry. They haven’t eaten over the weekend.

“I worry about kids on weekends, and I worry on Christmas break and I worry when they’re home. The Full Tummy Project is vital to some of our kids in Livingston Parish.”

The Mighty Moms choose foods that require little preparation, such as toaster pastries, dried fruits, trail mix, nuts, soups, Vienna sausage, beef jerky and canned meals with pull-top lids. The meal bags are given to the students privately, so they can put them in their book packs to avoid embarrassment.

“I’ve never had a kid tell me they didn’t want it,” Lilly said. “It’s never something that they’re too proud to take. They put it in their back sack on Friday afternoons and they take it home for the weekends.”

The bags have about $5 of food, which was more than the Mighty Moms could do themselves, so they attained tax-exempt status in late 2011 so they could receive donations. Almost all of the donations have been from individuals in Livingston Parish who have heard about their work.

“We really feel like this is God’s ministry, and we tell him quite often, ‘This is yours! You must help us!’” Birdsong said. “Two times ago, when we shopped big at Sam’s, I didn’t tell Beth — I keep the checkbook — but I was a little concerned about our money situation. That same day a check for $1,000 was in our mailbox. Thank you, Lord. We’re doing what he would like us to do as far in feeding those kids.”

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